Our People

A letter in Hinduism Today used the phrase "our people." Gurudeva never used this phrase. He reached out to everyone he encountered making no distinction. He also helped people broaden the scope of "my people" such as with the slogan of Kauai "One island, Many peoples, all Kauaiians" which is bringing the different groups of Kauai into one community. Gurudeva said that Hindus must be a part of their local community.

Unedited Transcript:

I was reading 'Hinduism Today' this morning, the upcoming issue. I ran into

an interesting letter from Sanjay Goel, "Abolish Misunderstandings. I would

like to thank the staff of Hinduism Today for their quality work and

dedication to the Hindu community. This magazine's devotion to its purpose

and strong commitment to their community has helped Hindus and others around

the world understand this great religion. There are so many illusions and

misunderstandings that your publication helps to abolish. Without your

commendable works our people would be at a great loss. Thanks."

Typical, wonderful letter of praise, right? Doing a great job. Well, the

phrase that stood out to me was "our people". Of course,"my people, our

people", is an interesting phrase, you run into it regularly. Someone says,

"My people, our people." So I was pondering, "Well, did Gurudeva ever say

that? Did Gurudeva say, "I am doing this for my people?" No, he didn't do

that, did he? I never heard him use that phrase, "my people". Gurudeva

wouldn't look at it that way.

One of the qualities of Gurudeva that was seen at the time of his passing

was the wide range of people that wrote in notes of condolence and the wide

range of people that went to the cremation ceremony. The Mayor was there,

Roselle Bailey was there, people from varying backgrounds. Gurudeva had

touched each of their lives deeply. It showed that Gurudeva somehow didn't

restrict his influence to "my people". He reached out to everyone who he

encountered in one way or another. He didn't distinguish between people he

was meeting as 'his people' and the people he was meeting who weren't 'his

people'. He didn't distinguish at all. Anyone he contacted in person, over

the e-mail, he responded to them as a human being. A human being. He didn't

make any distinction. He even influenced others to broaden their scope,

broaden the scope of who are 'my people'? A classic illustration is on the

island here and the culmination of this effort lead to the slogan, "One

Island, Many Peoples, All Kauaians."

So, even on Kauai we have this phenomena of 'my people'. 'My people' to one

group means Hawaiians. 'My people' to another group means the Filipinos. 'My

people' to another group means Japanese and so forth. Gurudeva put a lot of

energy into broadening that concept so that everyone on the island would

think of 'my people' as everyone else on the island. We are all Kauaians.

We have something in common here, this is our community.

Learning from Gurudeva, clearly there needs to be many 'our peoples', not

just one. The community is one of them. The community of Kauaians is a

group, that Gurudeva taught all of the monks, to support. We have a certain

number of projects, a certain amount of our energy, certain amount of our

money goes into helping the community. Gurudeva even spoke on this regularly

to Hindu leaders in the US, encouraging them to make sure that their Hindu

community interrelated with the broader community in which they lived. He

said, "This is very important in order to be accepted. You have to give to

the community in which you live. You have to feel a part of it, be a part

of it, not be isolated from it."

He also spoke in terms of 'our people', as being the whole country. Anyone

who moved to the United States to live here permanently needed to think of

himself as an American, not simply as an Indian or a Sri Lankan or European

but as an American, to take on that identity.

There is an interesting example we saw on '60 Minutes', a number of years

ago. '60 Minutes' gives me lots of good examples. It was on the Vietnam

Wall. The segment was on the designer of the Vietnam Wall, who is a Chinese

woman. At the time she designed it, she was very young, just out of college

in her twenties. There was some concern about the Vietnam Wall being

designed by a Chinese, because the Vietnam War was with Oriental people. So

here an Oriental is creating the monument, so there was some resistance.

She was being interviewed and being asked about her background and she said

she grew up in the Mid-west and her phrase was, "I am as American as apple

pie." That is how she described herself, I remember that phrase. She had

the right idea, she knew she was American. She wasn't Chinese, never been

to China. Her background is Chinese but she was American. She grew up in

America and she thought of herself as American, totally.

The idea here is, if we catch ourselves using the phrase, 'my people, our

people', or we hear someone else use the phrase, think carefully about it.

Make sure we are using it in a positive sense, in a good sense, in the sense

that is creating unity. Make sure we are not using it in a negative sense,

in a sense which is creating disunity and limits.